Want to make a serious difference with your Public Relations? Realise it’s more about being ‘Purposefully Communicative’ than being ‘Politically Correct’
At the World PR Forum this year, one quote remained with me… The task of professional communicators isn’t shaping perception as some would have it, but changing reality. I couldn’t agree more. Problem is, this is a minority view – essentially because there is a huge gap between the glut of PR pros and those few that actually have the business acumen and accompanying skills to drive true change for organisations.
I work in PR, yet the term irks me. Most think of PR as spin doctoring, and while I won’t deny this does exist in part, there is so much more to Public Relations than that – so I avoid the reference and negative connotations that come with it, if I can. Too many of my industry associates would have their clients, internal or external, believe that simply being in the press is the end game, when in fact this is just a very small element of what a good communicator focuses on. This has never been more obvious than today when the media landscape is shifting so dramatically. Audiences are fragmented so you can’t possibly engage them on just one front. Tease that thought out a little and you see that even when you are in the headlines, the resultant story depends on just two things – one you can control (the talking head AKA your talent) and the other you can’t (Mr. Journalist). How do you change this reality? Well, start with a proper brief for your spokesperson. Substance over size! You simply must contextualise the scenario they’re affronted with. Forget the approved quotes you hope they will repeat verbatim – they rarely do. Simply put, the reason they don’t is because they don’t know why they should. You haven’t given them the “what’s in it for me” spiel. Essentially, you aren’t being relevant.
I’m not the first one to say it, but I’ll say it again here – communications and brand development starts within. When your people understand the stakeholder ecosystem and the different players that influence it at varying levels, all of a sudden you are adding value in the process. You can’t be a passive participant running calls between the coach and the players. If you are, you simply become a redundant set of traffic lights in a city of drivers where no-one understands what red, green, or orange mean.
Being relevant – the pillars of purposeful communications:
Be strategic. You may not be responsible for internal communications, advertising, or marketing programs, but that’s no excuse not to integrate. Communications are as useful as the weakest link. You don’t live in a vacuum. Your success is intrinsically linked with others.
Listen. To Journalists, to Bloggers, to Customers and… get on those Analyst calls (regardless of if it means losing a bit of sleep). If you don’t know what the business objectives are, you can’t possibly know what the communications objectives are. You need to hear it first hand, not in a game of Chinese whispers.
Challenge peoples thinking. It’s your job, but back it up with numbers. Not everyone has a right to an opinion! I hate when people pull out that line. Having an opinion is a privilege reserved for those people that get educated. Play the devil’s advocate, but only when you understand Hades and Heaven.
Don’t fear failure. You can’t give good advice from case studies you’ve read alone. Learning what works, and more importantly what doesn’t, makes you an invaluable asset. Try new things and own it if it doesn’t work out. Respect is what you sell as a communicator and you only get it when you’ve been down in the trenches and have a few scars to show.
In the end, your spokespeople will thank you because all of a sudden they start to see tangible ROI from their interviews, blogs, tweets, analyst briefings and speaking engagements. All the while the media actually get a story their readers – ‘YOUR’ CUSTOMERS, PARTNERS, SHAREHOLDERS (and to close the loop) STAFF, are actually interested in.